While the regional connectivity and trade has been on the agenda of all the governments in the Bay of Bengal region constituting Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, India and Bangladesh, the impact trickles down to people living in the region and their livelihood.

To this effect, the Bhutan Media and Communication Institute (BMCI) has conducted an independent study as a counter part from Bhutan. The BMCI has conducted four dialogues in Bhutan, last being on August 2, to validate their findings as well as create greater public awareness on regional connectivity.

The study recommended an urgent need for improving coordination and cooperation among different ministries and departments and between governments. This, the study stated is to ensure better regional connectivity and safety of Bhutanese travellers outside Bhutan.

The study also showed that regional pact such as the BBIN or BBIN+M (Myanmar) would have a direct impact on people as the stakeholders involve farmers, truckers, brokers, support service providers along the highways, policy makers, check points (Customs, Immigration, BAFRA), manual workers and clearing agencies among others.

As such the livelihood of certain stakeholders like truckers, laborers and support service providers in border towns are directly dependent on the volume of trade.

“If one side is affected by political problems then trade on the other side is also affected adversely,” the study stated.

The condition of road infrastructure, facilities at the Land Custom Stations, skills, Internet connectivity and use of technology not only determines the trade flow but also the quality of people’s lives along the regional corridor.

Some of the recommendations, specific to Bhutan include investment on road infrastructure, decongestion of bordering towns, digitalisation, need for storage facilities in all the dzongkhags, cross border coordination, exploring multi modal and green transport and raising awareness among different stakeholders.

Director of BMCI, Pushpa Chhetri said Bhutan is dependent on trade to fulfill its basic needs like rice, clothing and religious artifacts mostly imported from India, Bangladesh and Nepal. “On the other hand, it is extremely important to find market outside Bhutan to export for rupee and dollar earnings,” she said.

One of the initial findings of the study that was made public in February this year stated that political complexities and ground realities had portrayed a grim scenario of cross-border connectivity linkages, which other wise has huge potential for economic growth in the region.

The study stated that timely implementation of projects to develop infrastructure, rail, road and port remain a challenge due to political complexity.

While trading has opened up several opportunities for women to be engaged in economic activities, they have mostly taken over the roles of service providers along the highways and nearby bordering towns and industries. “Women are engaged more in administrative work, sales and support staff. For instance, most handicraft and readymade garments shops have employed 98% women in sales,” the study stated.

According to initial finding of the study, corrupt practices, political and security issues, shortage of manual labourers in Bhutan, absence of power back up, animal and plant quarantine facilities at Jaigaon and trans-shipment along the Thimphu-Phuentsholing-Jaigaon-Changrabandha-Burimari-Dhaka corridor is leading to procedural delays and increase in the trading cost.

It is also stated that customs rules and regulations and procedures differ from country to country. Absence of testing labs, security at Indo-Bhutan border, illegal trade through land customs station, political misunderstandings and lack of institutional and regulatory reforms, poor road conditions, parking issues, narrow roads and improper water and sanitation facilities at ports are some of the challenges the study identified.

For landlocked countries like Bhutan and Nepal, inadequate transit and transport facilitation is an issue. In Bhutan’s case, third country import is dependent on Kolkata port. Trans-shipment and high costs of transporting goods affect the country’s global trade competitiveness.

BMCI conducted this study in Bhutan as a part of a larger study in the sub region constituting Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan, India and Bangladesh. This study mapped the perceptions of selected stakeholders in Bhutan on the current state of trading through the journey of three products imported and exported to and from India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The corridors selected for the study are Thimphu – Phuentsholing – Jaigaon – Changrabandha – Burimari – Dhaka and Pemagatshel-Samdrup Jongkhar-Rongia-Birathnagar

Tshering Dorji